NIAGARA FALLS – At a time when the region pins much of its economic future on tourism, some Niagara Falls lawmakers appear ready to sever the official relationship between the city and its tourism promotion agency.
City Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian on Friday said that the three-member majority on the Council may either table or vote down a proposed one-year contract extension with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.
The agency has been “robbing taxpayers for years,” said Choolokian, who added that he does not favor approving a proposal to extend the deal.
“They produce absolutely nothing,” Choolokian said.
Choolokian said he plans to speak with Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione and Councilman Robert A. Anderson Jr., the other members of the majority, before Monday’s meeting to talk more about what action they plan to take.
The agency, funded by the bed tax paid by hotels and motels, is responsible for promoting all of Niagara County.
But because Niagara County has already approved a contract extension with the agency, the bed tax revenue from Niagara Falls will still flow to it.
Niagara Falls, which supplies the vast majority of funding to the agency, collects a 5 percent bed tax. After 1 percent is taken for trolley services, the remaining 4 percent is divided, with 80 percent of that sent to the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.
Last year, the city collected $1.96 million in bed-tax revenues, the fourth-straight year that figure has increased and the highest figure in at least the last 17 years.
In 2003, the first year of the agency’s existence, the city’s bed-tax revenue totaled $988,000, according to city Controller’s Office records.
John H. Percy Jr., the agency’s president and CEO, said that the average daily rate for a room in the city 10 years ago was in the low $60 range. Now, the average is more than $109, Percy said. Overall, bed tax revenue collected by Niagara County and the cities of Lockport and Niagara Falls is up 70 percent over the last decade, he said.
“Our performance numbers speak for themselves,” Percy said.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster called this a bad time to create any kind of instability in the area’s tourism promotion effort.
There are seven hotel projects in the works in the city, with investors relying on the tourism promoters to bring them customers, Dyster said. The state is also ready to invest in the promotion of tourism in the region as part of the Buffalo Billion initiative, he added.
Dyster said it sometimes appears some people undertake the “deliberate sabotage of our own economy.”
Last month, the Niagara County Legislature, led by its Republican majority, approved only a one-year deal with the agency. The Legislature’s Democrats had pitched a 10-year renewal of the contract.
The Legislature’s GOP-majority has called for “transparency” and “oversight” of the agency.
The City of Lockport has also approved a one-year extension with the agency.
“Then we all come to the table and we all agree on what are the differences,” he said, “and let’s get a permanent contract done.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that no extension of the contract would effectively cut city funding to the organization.